Best Attraction in South Dakota: The Reptile Gardens

Laura Ingalls Wilder Sites take runner-up spot

In South Dakota, pristine wilderness meets the Wild West. It's a state where a traveler can hike amid the imposing peaks of the Black Hills, watch a gunslinger shootout in Deadwood or pay tribute to presidents past at Mount Rushmore. The countryside brims with recreational possibilities, while towns like Pierre, Rapid City and Mitchell offer a host of cultural attractions.

  • Deadwood

    In 1874 gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota, kicking off one of the nation’s last great gold rushes. In a matter of weeks, a small gold camp transformed into a boom town filled with prospectors, gamblers and gunslingers, including colorful characters like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. When gambling was legalized in 1989, Deadwood – then a near ghost town – was revitalized into the quirky Old West outpost it is today.
    Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism

  • Mammoth Site
    Hot Springs

    Visitors to the town of Hot Springs have the opportunity to tour an active paleontological dig site, home of the largest concentration of mammoth remains on the planet. In addition to touring the sinkhole, guests can also learn about the mammoth (and see life-size replicas) in the exhibit hall.
    Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism

  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial
    Keystone

    To stand beneath the faces carved into granite at Mount Rushmore National Monument is to marvel at history, natural beauty and artistic determination. The 60-foot-tall visages of U.S. presidents Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Lincoln were carved into a South Dakota cliff by Gutzon and Lincoln Borglum from 1934 to 1939 to promote tourism in the area. Today, more than 3 million annual visitors trek to the Black Hill to marvel at this iconic American monument.
    Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism

  • Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center
    Chamberlain

    Visitors learn about the past, present and future of South Dakota's Plains Indians at the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center in Chamberlain. Housed on the campus of the St. Joseph's Indian School, the museum features 14,000 feet of exhibit space filled with art and artifacts from the Lakota people.
    Photo courtesy of St. Joseph's Indian School / Wikimedia Commons

  • Custer State Park
    Custer

    Located in the rugged Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park protects 71,000 acres of terrain and a herd of some 1,300 bison – one of the largest publicly owned herds on the planet – who are known to stop traffic along the park's Wildlife Loop Road from time to time. Besides viewing elk, pronghorn deer, mountain goats and other park residents, visitors can summit Harney Peak, the park's tallest point, for sweeping views over the prairies, hills and granite needles that make Custer so unique.
    Photo courtesy of iStock / tonda

  • Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
    Philip

    During the Cold War, the Minuteman Missile was a notable weapon in the United States nuclear arsenal with the power to destroy humanity or (luckily for us) deter nuclear war. Visitors to Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota can tour two of the original 150 missile silos, as well as the underground Launch Control Center where a pair of missileers stayed on 24-hour alert duty behind an eight ton blast door.
    Photo courtesy of NPS Photo

  • The World's Only Corn Palace
    Mitchell

    One of America's quirkiest roadside attractions is found in the town of Mitchell; it calls itself the World's Only Corn Palace, and that's probably true. Established in 1892, the palace started out as the site of a local fall festival, and today, it attracts half a million visitors per year who come to see the colorful corn murals.
    Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism

  • National Music Museum
    Vermillion

    The National Music Museum, housed on the University of South Dakota campus in Vermillion, showcases a collection of over 15,000 musical instruments, including countless rare specimens. Highlights include the world's oldest cello, guitars once owned by Elvis and saxophones made by Adolphe Sax himself.
    Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder Sites
    De Smet

    Literature lovers can visit two Little House on the Prairie-related sites in South Dakota, the Ingalls Homestead and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes. The former brings to life pioneer heritage on a piece of land Laura Ingalls Wilder's family homesteaded, and the later allows visitors to tour the author's historic home.
    Photo courtesy of Chad Coppess / South Dakota Tourism

  • Reptile Gardens
    Rapid City

    Reptile Gardens in Rapid City holds the Guinness Book of World Records title of the World's Largest Reptile Zoo. Opened in 1937, the botanical garden and zoological park is home to giant tortoises, prairie dogs, bald eagles and a giant saltwater crocodile, among other critters.
    Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism

We asked our readers to choose their favorites, and the results are in. The top 10 winners in the category Best South Dakota Attraction are as follows:

  1. Reptile Gardens - Rapid City
  2. Laura Ingalls Wilder Sites - De Smet
  3. National Music Museum - Vermillion
  4. The World's Only Corn Palace - Mitchell
  5. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site - Philip
  6. Custer State Park - Custer
  7. Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center - Chamberlain
  8. Mount Rushmore National Memorial - Keystone
  9. Mammoth Site - Hot Springs
  10. Deadwood

A panel of experts partnered with 10Best editors to picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Lisa Meyers McClintick and a representative from the South Dakota Department of Tourism were chosen based on their knowledge and experience of travel in the state.

Congratulations to all these winning attractions!

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Alert The Experts

Lisa Meyers McClintick

South Dakota Department of Tourism

South Dakota Department of Tourism